Viewpoint: Hands up if you want to run the country

Take note – story published 8 years ago

It's more than a week since Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma informed Latvia she would in future prefer to be referred to as 'former' Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma, and several months since everyone else prophesied the fact. 

That being the case, it would not be unreasonable to suggest we might by now have a vague idea who will succeed her. We do not.

In most countries when someone stops being Prime Minister, a few people say they would quite like to be Prime Minister instead. They play down the ego trip it would give them and play up the "new direction" they feel they can offer to the nation.

A debate follows in which they are either ordered to return to base or are handed the keys to the country and told to get on with it.

In Latvia it doesn't happen that way. In Latvia, everyone says the incumbent has to go but - somewhat surprisingly - no-one makes any plans for what happens next.

Even when the yawning great black hole that is Not Having Anyone Really In Charge appears in the sky and starts sucking things like policies and treaties into its infinite void, all the political parties can do is parrot how they need more inter-party discussions on the subject. Have they never met?

Really, it's remarkable. There are only 100 deputies in Saeima, spread among six different parties. MPs can't get away from each other. They live so much in each others' pockets, they can probably tell what color fluff is to be found there. Yet when it comes to choosing a Prime Minister they wander round like the Walking Dead, randomly bumping into each other with no idea who, if anyone, should be in charge.

President Raimonds Vejonis, who has the job of actually nominating someone (and who himself only agreed to run for President after thumbscrews were brandished) held two days of talks with the parties, after which he announced he was giving them another THREE WEEKS to work out who they all were and whether they liked each other, as if the previous two days had been some sort of speed dating experiment gone horribly wrong. 

One person everyone assumes does want to be Prime Minister is Solvita Aboltina, but now she has turned all shy and retiring after weeks of playing Lady Macbeth and has yet to say unequivocally that she would sell her soul to a man at the crossroads if only the PM's motorcade would be hers.

Even if she did get the seat she seems to crave on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays but disdains on Tuesdays and Thursdays, her victory would be Pyrrhic.

While the Latvian mode of writing the names of political parties in quotation marks is usually quite annoying, as far as Aboltina's "Unity" party is concerned it is now entirely appropriate, signalling that the word should be understood in a purely sarcastic way. 

There's another person who definitely would like to lead Latvia, and that's Riga mayor Nils Usakovs. Regardless of what one thinks of his politics (an increasingly eclectic mix of social democracy and social conservatism) as a pure politician, he is by some margin the most skillful operator in the country.

He also happens to lead the largest party in parliament - in most countries a reliable way of being asked to form a government. But in Latvia, for reasons we don't have nearly enough room to explain here if you don't know already, it effectively guarantees you will be in perpetual opposition.

But what is most perplexing is not the standard of any potential candidate but the simple fact everyone is so damn shy about wanting to be Prime Minister.

Granted, one only has to look at aspects of the race for the Republican nomination in the United States to see what happens when one goes to the other extreme - a craving for power based on straightforward egotism.

But here in Latvia we have the opposite problem: no-one wants to put themselves on the line. The political class looks like nothing so much as 100 teenagers with Saeima as their school disco. They mill around, sticking close to the walls and trying to look cool but are terrified of asking anyone else for a dance, let alone being first onto the dancefloor to show everyone how to Twist.

It should not be too much to ask for something in the middle: someone who does enjoy looking in the mirror and saying "I'm the Prime Minister!" but also is willing to suffer political and personal inconvenience for a few years because they actually want to do something for their country.

Straujuma herself only became Prime Minister when no-one else was prepared to step forward (twice) and considering she wasn't even a politician when she started, made a pretty good job of it.

In Estonia and Lithuania they don't have this problem. People want to be Prime Ministers. But what sort of message does it send if we create a political system in which people only become leader of their country under suffrance, that they accept the honor with a sigh rather than a smile?

We need to either put a stop to this tiresome timidity - or simply admit defeat and introduce Athenian-style executive power by means of drawing lots (which was often regarded as an annoying distraction from philosophizing, throwing the discus, prancing around bulls and other more important tasks). 

Rather than put up with any more of this tedious flip-flopping, I propose we find a Prime Minister of our own. Plenty of intelligent Latvian passport-holders read LSM's English service.

If you are doing so for any reason other than to spot tipografikal erurrs and tell us about them, if you are not afraid of other, timid people whispering about you behind their hands and most importantly of all, if you have a desire to make your country at least a tiny bit better than it was when you were born in it, you already possess more qualifications for the job of Prime Minister than the entire political class.

Please leave your name and contact details in the comments section below so we can pass them on to President Vejonis.


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